Originally posted April 23, 2016
We all have two lives and the second one doesn’t start until you realize you only have one.
Leaving my career for a year of travel has been a major life change and during the ‘road to the road’, I’ve had my fair share of lessons learned. But rather than being hard lessons, they have provided a much-needed personal intervention or divine kick-in-the-pants, if you will.
I can’t say that what I’m doing is for everyone and it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but the learnings below tell me it’s been absolutely the right choice for me.
1) Living with less… and loving it
We all know ‘you can’t take it with you’, yet modern culture suggests that the person without things has ‘nothing to show’ for their life.
Learning to live with fewer possessions has been a curious paradox.
On one hand, whittling our worldly goods from a five-bedroom house (which, in the small home standard of Britain feels like an obscene finger gesture towards restraint) to a one-bedroom apartment lifted me both physically and psychologically. And by unburdening myself externally, I suddenly found I was addressing my internal ‘stuff’- questions of identity and character. I didn’t just want to aspire to be fearless, kind, patient and grateful but to really be that person with an inner glow of wisdom.
On the other, while de-cluttering was an overwhelmingly positive experience, it also exposed my control freak angst as I no longer felt anchored to the identity those things had come to represent. If I no longer appeared traditionally ‘successful’ with a career, home, car and nice things, then who was I?
It’s tough to let go of the known for the unknown, especially when the unknown is ‘under construction’. I wasn’t going to achieve transformation just because I took a year off, but the minimalist life of a long-term traveler would certainly provide the right environment to get started.
To be clear, it’s not that I don’t like the nicer things in life. I love beautiful things as much as the next gal, and someday I might revive my stuff-loving ways (albeit in a muted form), but for now, I’m going to trade it in for a year that is ‘stuff austere’ but rich in time and experience.
2) If you have enough for a week, you have enough for a year
My initial packing list was so lengthy, that it was ridiculous—I looked at it recently and had a good laugh. Even more comical was the first time I tried to pack my 44 liter Tortuga, as the initial pile of stuff I deemed ‘necessary’ for travel was 5x bigger than the bag. Bit by bit, I culled my items down to the bare necessities, and by the time we boarded the plane, I had one week’s worth of clothing and toiletries. Yes, I will need to wash clothes often and yes, I will need to get used to personal items that aren’t my favorite, but since we are not traveling to outer space, I’m certain it will be just fine.
3) Working from home improved my life balance AND productivity
I used to be skeptical about working from home full-time. I thought my extroverted self couldn’t possibly be successful without having others around me. Wasn’t bringing people together my core strength after all?
Turns out that my desire for efficiency trumps my desire to be around people.
Skipping the morning ritual of getting ready (hair/make-up/dress for success) and commuting gave me two hours back in the morning and an hour back in the evening. I was able to put that time to good use by tackling difficult tasks first thing in the morning when my brain was freshest and patience at its peak. As well, I didn’t have nearly the number of interruptions and as a result, my output was prolific.
It wasn’t just my work that improved, my health improved as well. I was better able to control my food intake and I took a long walk everyday, which resulted in an eight-pound weight loss over the course of the year I worked from home.
I love, love, love being location independent and a digital nomad. Knowing I can take my skills and work anywhere has been a revelation. Whatever the next chapter of my career, I know working from home (wherever that may be!) will be a central part of it.
4) Personal validation must come from within
Not to get all existential crisis-y, but this has to be my biggest learning of all.
I’ve always enjoyed ceremony that surrounds school and work. Solving problems, the camaraderie with colleagues, and the rewarding feeling of a job well-done have always been satisfying to me. I liked the challenge. I liked the validation. I didn’t hate the money.
But there was a downside to that affirmation as my work had become personal and my job became me. I was conflicted because while I enjoyed my career, I wanted to unlink my identity from my work. I also wanted to stop linking my standard of living with the things around me. The desire for nicer homes, nicer cars and nicer vacations was becoming a rabbit hole trap, forcing me to make trade offs between maintaining a lifestyle and personal discovery.
I gave myself a year to do it.
In my last post, I discussed how gratitude training helped me build the skill of appreciation, which was key in redefining my views on success and work identity. Through it, I was able to get some much-needed personal distance from my work. I found that when I didn’t make my job a direct reflection of me, it was far more enjoyable and I rarely experienced negative emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety.
What I learned over the past year preparing for long-term travel will serve me well on the road.
- Relieving the physical burden of possessions has alleviated the psychological burden of ownership. I am learning to separate the value of things versus the value of having them as well as the opportunity cost of having things vs experiences. Long-term travel will further cement this change in my mindset as I will not be able to accumulate things—and I would suspect that each additional day spent living minimally will reinforce its virtues.
- The confidence in knowing a week’s worth of clothing can last a year has increased confidence in my ability to make adjustments on the fly. You can’t prepare for every scenario that ‘might’ come up (which is what I think leads to people packing wayyy to much—“what if there’s a formal event?”, “what if I decide to go camping for a week?”, “what if I run out of [some product]?”, “what if I get sick of wearing this shirt?”…
- Location independence is something I’ve come to value highly and because of that I will be more receptive to these types of opportunities going forward. But what good is location independence if you don’t have a location or locations that you view as desirable places to be? Extended travel will further illuminate places where I would like to live / spend more time in as to reap maximum value that location independence affords!
- I separated my personal identity from my work identity by peeling back 20 years of career accumulation in an effort to reach the core, then began to build new layers by redefining success and discovering challenge, camaraderie and validation though other means (i.e. outside of traditional work environment) while maintaining a consistent vein of gratitude throughout.
Thanks for reading!